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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Speaking in Tongues

Don Stewart :: Does Speaking in Tongues Have a Devotional Purpose?

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Does Speaking in Tongues Have a Devotional Purpose?

The Gift of Speaking in Tongues – Question 11

The gift of tongues was given for the purpose of edifying or building up the body of Christ. Is it permissible, then, for the believer to pray by himself, or herself, to God in tongues? In other words, does this spiritual gift have a devotional purpose? Those who believe speaking in tongues has a devotional purpose argue as follows.

Paul Mentioned Tongues in the Context of Praying

While the explicit purpose for speaking in tongues is a sign for the unbeliever Paul also mentioned tongues in the context of personal prayers. He said that only God understands when someone prays in this manner. We read his words to the Corinthians.

For if your gift is the ability to speak in tongues, you will be talking to God but not to people, since they won’t be able to understand you. You will be speaking by the power of the Spirit, but it will all be mysterious... For if I pray in tongues, my spirit is praying, but I don’t understand what I am saying (1 Corinthians 14:2, 14 NLT).

Only God knows what is being said when a person is praying in a language unknown to them. Indeed, the person praying does not understand.

There Are Times Words Are Inadequate

Sometimes a believer doesn’t know how to pray. They perhaps cannot express themselves in prayer, and words seem inadequate. They may use the gift of tongues then as a private prayer language between themselves and God. Paul wrote to the Romans about how the Spirit intercedes for us.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26 NRSV).

This could be what the Apostle had in mind when he talked about praying in the Spirit. He wrote the following to the Ephesians.

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints (Ephesians 6:18 NRSV).

Therefore, it seems that speaking in tongues could indeed have a devotional purpose.

There Are No Examples of People Speaking in Tongues Privately

While it is possible that the gift of tongues was used in a devotional manner, we do not have any New Testament examples of people speaking, or praying, in tongues privately. Every instance that we find the gift being exercised, it is always in public. It is never used in private.

Of course, there may be reasons why there are no examples of speaking in tongues in private. The prayers that are recorded in the New Testament are generally public prayers, not private prayers.

Because there is not that much said on this issue in Scripture, one can make an argument either for or against the idea of speaking in tongues in private prayers to the Lord. This being case, none of us can be certain of the answer to this question.

Summary – Question 11
Does Speaking in Tongues Have a Devotional Purpose?

There is a question as to whether tongue-speaking has a devotional purpose. Some see it as a private prayer language that God has given to certain believers. During the time of devotional speaking in tongues the believer speaks privately to God and to Him alone. There is some support for this. The Apostle Paul did refer to speaking in tongues in the context of praying. Furthermore, he said that those who pray in tongues pray in such a way in which only God understands.

In another place, Paul speaks about how words are inadequate for expressing our thoughts to the Lord. This, it is argued, could be a reference to speaking in tongues or praying in tongues.

However, we find no example in the New Testament of people exercising the gift of tongues in their private prayers. This is often used as an argument against this sort of practice.

But this does not mean that such prayers did not happen but merely that they were not recorded. Since the prayers would be private we would not assume that they would be documented for us. Consequently, this issue does not seem to have a clear answer.

Is Speaking in Tongues to Build up Oneself a Proper Goal? ← Prior Section
What Does It Mean to Pray in the Spirit? Next Section →
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